Category Archives: SELF-SUFFICIENCY & PRESERVING FOOD

Indian Chilli Pickles

indian_pickledchillipI you didn’t expect to see a pickling post in January, believe me, I’m as surprised as you are, but sometimes cravings make one forget about the seasonality of fresh produce. After my French cuisine-inspired Christmas and New Year’s Eve I’ve been craving fiery, spicy, rich Indian food more than ever, hence probably this pickling idea. As a chilli addict and a serial pickler I have my pantry, fridge and kitchen filled with different spicy jars. I’ve been pickling for years, constantly searching for new ideas from all around the world…. so finally I thought it was time to turn to Indian cuisine I love more and more every year. My first experiment was so successful, I can only regret I haven’t tried making any Indian preserves before and I strongly recommend trying these not only to Indian food lovers but all my fellow chilli addicts.

I have combined two sources, one from the fantastic book by Meera Sodha’s (Fresh India) and another from the newly discovered Healthy Veg Recipes website (in English and Hindi), the latter recipe being much richer in spices and closer to what I had in mind thinking of Indian pickled chilli. If you know Patak’s, the famous British brand of Indian pickles, and if you love their products as much as I do (my favourite are chilli and mango pickles), you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover my very first homemamde Indian pickles had this distinctive Patak’s aroma I’m totally addicted to! Moreover, they seemed crunchier and less oily than the famous jars’ content. Needless to say, I feel it’s only the beginning of my long adventure with Indian pickling…

These chillies are perfect on sandwiches, in tortilla rolls, in scrambled eggs (!!!) and simply served with any dish, not necessarily Indian. My favourite light breakfast (I’m rarely hungry in them morning) is now a slice of crisp thin bread (Finncrisp is the best!) with a thick layer of goat cheese or quark/curd cheese and two or three slices of these pickles. I have no words to describe how fantastic it is!

TIPS: In theory fresh chilli is not now in season in this part of the world, but the one sold by my supermarket comes from Moroccan greenhouses, smells great and apparently is perfect for pickles even in the middle of winter.

I’ve checked on many online sources and I saw that Indian dried spices are available practically all around the world, so try not to skip any of the below ingredients (such as asafoetida, which cannot be substituted and it adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to these pickles and make them really special). Mustard oil is also very good here.

The below spice amounts can be changed to your taste, but be careful with fenugreek. It’s easy to overdose and thus make the whole jar of pickles bitter (I’ve had this awful experience once with a curry dish).  Asafoetida is quite strong, but it’s not as dangerous as fenugreek (in my opinion).

You will find all the spices and the mustard oil in Indian/Sri Lankan grocery shops. Mustard oil does make a huge difference in taste…

You can also use raw red chilli, but Indian sources suggest green raw chilli is the best for pickling. Obviously adapt the heat level to your taste and capacity to eat fiery food. In general, I’d recommend medium hot chillies (but this is a rather personal concept).

The chilli pieces must be submerged in the pickling liquid, so once you mix everything, you must put something heavy on top. A Japanese pickling jar with a weight will be perfect, but you can also use a bigger jar for pickling and a small clean jar filled with water as a weight. Afterwards you should put a lid on the jar or cover with plastic film, so that no unwanted bacteria gets inside.

Special equipment: disposable gloves

Preparation: 15 minutes + minimum 3 days

Ingredients:

250 g (about 1/2 lb) fresh green chillies without stalks

50 ml mustard oil

6 teaspoons salt

juice from 1 lime (or 1/2 lemon)

3 heaped teaspoons sugar

3 tablespoons vinegar (I’ve used cider vinegar)

2 tablespoons white/yellow mustard seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1/3 teaspoon asafoetida powder

Grind all the spices in a spice grinder or in a cheap coffee grinder (I have one I bought only for spices, see TIPS above).

Put on disposable gloves. Slice the chillies or cut them into bite-sized pieces. (Remove the seeds and white parts if you want less heat).

Place the chilli pieces tightly in a glass jar or any other container (a Japanese pickling jar, such as this one is a fantastic gadget here).

Add the spices.

Heat the oil (but don’t boil it) and pour it over the chillies.

Add the lime juice, the vinegar, the salt and give it a good stir.

Put something heavy weight on top (if you have a Japanese pickling jar you have a special heavy “cover”), made of ceramic or glass (a small jar filled with water will be ok), so that the chillies are all submerged in the oily mixture.

Cover well with plastic wrap or a cover, so that no bacteria gets inside, and leave at room temperature for two-three days. Stir the content once a day with a clean fork or spoon.

The chillies will soften, their volume will be reduced and their colour will change to an olive hue; then they will be ready to eat.

Store the pickles tightly closed in the fridge and whenever you fish some pieces out, make sure you use a clean fork or spoon (i.e. not used on any other food product).

Foie Gras (Fat Liver) with Sake and Chilli

foiegras_sake2pNo matter if we have guests or not, fat liver (foie gras) terrine is the only item I cannot imagine my Christmas without. Undisciplined and messy cook that I am, I never manage it to look as good as I’d like,  the shape is never neat and, in general, it’s far from being perfect. I’m sure professional chefs would consider it unacceptable, but I love my homemade terrine and never even think of buying it already cooked. Now is the best moment to plan a trip to a good duck liver supplier, so I thought I’d share with you my most recent seasoning variation, successfully tested and planned for this Christmas too.

Probably because foie gras is expensive, most people (also in France) think it’s very difficult to prepare a terrine, i.e. seasoned half cooked whole liver. There are different methods, such as poaching it rolled into a piece of fabric or cling film, but I’ve always practiced the most popular one among home cooks: hot water bath baking in a rectangular terrine dish. Seasoning options are endless, though most cooks use only salt or some dry spices and/or aromatic alcohols. The first time I made it I was surprised how easy it was, though I had been scared to spoil the whole liver. It doesn’t require any skills (apart from a bit of patience if you have to remove the veins, but nowadays the liver is often sold deveined) and most of the process consists in… waiting, since you need to prepare it several days in advance.

Apart from those who love cooking and experimenting, people often decide to make this terrine at home because the price is about three times lower (and it’s still costly!), so if you have access to the raw or good quality but frozen liver, do not hesitate (I have no experience with goose liver, so I cannot give any advise on it). Disciplined, meticulous cooks will obtain a beautiful visual result even the first time, but since I’m clumsy and don’t care for the visual improvement that much, I only pay attention to the flavours; good taste is all that counts and it’s very simple to achieve.

I like experimenting with new flavours, but since I’m never sure of the results, I always do it with only a half of my liver (or just one, if I buy two). Last year I prepared half with “safe” Armagnac (see below) and half with a slightly risky mixture of sake and powdered chilli, which reminded me a bit of Korean cuisine. The result was moderately spicy and the delicate sake aroma was still recognisable, so this year I’ll repeat this version, but I have already planned a new experiment for the other half of my liver….

If you prefer a more traditional version of foie gras, you might like the Armagnac seasoning:

foie_gras_a

TIPS: 

If you buy fat liver for the first time, the most important thing is the weight. The heavier the liver is the worst the quality. A good duck fat liver should weigh between 400 and 500 grams. If it’s a bit heavier, it’s not important, but never buy the huge 700 g ones. Try to buy the product which is not too soft (delicately pressed it should “bounce” slightly but definitely not leave traces) and not bruised. Of course, the fresher it is, the better and even famous French chefs recommend frozen product if one is not sure about the raw liver’s freshness because livers are normally frozen the same day the animals were slaughtered. Obviously, it’s better to buy liver from a local producer and if it’s imported, but some countries don’t have the same level of hygiene/quality/medicine use regulations (or simply don’t respect theirs). The difference in taste will be huge. I always try to look for free-range birds, which are force-fed only during last weeks of their lives.

Some friends have already asked me, so I prefer to warn you : I have never cooked goose liver, which is bigger, has a different texture and taste, so I have no idea how to prepare it. All my tips and advice concern fat duck liver.

The terrine must spend 48 hours in the fridge before being served. This is obligatory: I once tasted foie gras about 12 hours after cooking and it was awful. I already thought I had spoilt it, but it was just too early to eat it…. Both the texture and the taste really improve with time.

Since it’s a half-cooked product, you should eat it in four-five days after you cook it. If you see you won’t be able to finish it, freeze the remaining part whole or in small portions.

Remember, even if you forget a step, even if you overcook your liver or you make any other mistake, don’t despair. It might prove totally edible! You will be able to learn it only after 48 hours in the fridge. I once forgot mine in the oven and was surprised it was actually quite good.

How to serve it? 

Foie gras is often served with fig jam and also with sweet onion jam or fruit chutneys. For me the simplest and often the best way to enjoy it without hiding its delicate flavours is to serve it with good quality sea salt and crunchy “airy” French-style bread. This is the way I prefer it but I also like it sometimes with tangy jams (such as damson jam).

Foie gras is usually served as a starter, on individual plates in slices (which should never ever be squashed and spread on the bread like a vulgar supermarket pâté!), together with toasts, but it also makes wonderful finger food when served on mini toasts. Good quality – flaked or grainy – salt sprinkled over a piece of the terrine or a toast is the ultimate touch.

Every meal and every time of the day is perfect for foie gars. A late Sunday breakfast/brunch is one of my favourite moments to enjoy it…

Traditionally sweetish sauternes wines are advised with fat liver, but I have it only with dry wines. (Don’t be ashamed to try it with red wine! Many people living in south-western France, famous for its fat duck livers, actually prefer it with red wine).

If you don’t like the shape of your cooked terrine or if it falls into pieces, serve it on small toasts as canapés.

Special equipment:

good tweezers (the best would be special fish bones removal tweezers, but good eyebrow tweezers should be ok too)

a “terrine”/pâté dish (with a cover and, ideally with a fitting lid, but it’s not obligatory)

a cooking thermometer (this is not obligatory, but makes the cooking time control much easier)

Preparation: about 4 days (2,5 hours + 24 hours in the fridge + 30-40 minutes cooking+minimum 48 hours in the fridge before serving)

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8):

1 whole duck liver, weighing max. 500g (see the tips above)

10 tablespoons sake (I have used here really cheap sake I use for Japanese cooking – though not the sweet mirin! – and it was perfect)

5 flat tablespoons (or more) powdered medium hot chilli (I have used here Kashmiri chilli) or sweet paprika, if you prefer it mild

3 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce (you can add 5 if you use low-sodium version)

about 1/2 litre water

about 1/2 litre milk

salt (10 g/about 2 teaspoons per kilo, since there is also soy sauce)

(some more medium hot or sweet chilli powder to sprinkle just before serving)

Take the liver out of the fridge.

Let it warm up to the room temperature.

Divide the two lobes and carefully take out first of all the main veins and as many small ones as you manage.

Put it into tepid mixture of water and milk for 2 hours.

Take it out, pat dry. Put the first part of the liver in the terrine dish.

Season with salt, chilli, soy sauce and half of the sake (if your terrine is small but tall, you might have to divide the seasoning into three portions and make three layers of the liver; in this case start with a third of all those).

Put the second part, season once more (if you have three layers, place a third layer and season once more) and slightly press.

Cover the dish (otherwise it will change its colours to gray!) and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven at 130°C/266°F.

Take the liver out of the fridge.

Put some hot water (80°C/176°F) in a big shallow dish, put the dish with the liver (make sure it’s at room temperature) inside, so that the water covers 3/4 of the dish’s height.

Cook in the oven for around 40 minutes, checking the central temperature of the liver.

It shouldn’t have more than 65°C-70°C/about 149°F-158°F inside in the centre, while being taken out of the oven (depending on how pink you want it to be inside).

Take it out and let it cool.

Discard most of the fat formed at the top of the terrine.

Press it slightly (or press with something heavy, such as a wooden board; the best thing is to have a special terrine dish with a special adjusted board).

(You can also reserve the fat discarded from the terrine, press the terrine with a board, leave in the fridge for 12 hours and then and pour the fat back on top. This will create a nice yellowish layer on top. I never bother doing this.)

Put into the fridge for at least 48 hours (this half-cooked terrine should be consumed within four-five days after being cooked).

Keep in covered (otherwise it will dry and the colour will change to gray).

Take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before serving.

Serve it either in individual slices with bread/toast aside or as finger food on small toast.

You may sprinkle it with some more chilli powder just before serving.

Dipping the knife in hot water makes the cutting easier.

Homemade Savoury Edible Gifts

driedgFirst of all I would like to apologise to all my dear visitors for such a long silence (some have probably thought I’d stopped blogging…) due to long holidays. Just like every year, I had planned writing at least one post in advance and… just like every year, somehow it didn’t work…

Coming back from my holidays, I started to panic realising it’s time to think and start buying Christmas presents. I still haven’t decided on bigger ones, but I thought maybe this year, for the first time in my life, I might make and offer some edible gifts, at least as a small addition to the more “serious” stuff…

I know cookies, biscuits and jams are often offered, not only for Christmas, so I tried to list here some more unusual savoury edible gift ideas you might find inspiring (if you know my food preferences a bit, you will not be surprised by the abundance of chilli-based products….). All of these are easy to prepare, some can be made in almost no time at all, and all the ingredients are available in December, at least in Europe (fresh imported chilli is available all year round, I hope in the rest of the world too).

Made in less than 30 minutes

Quick Chilli and Garlic Oil with Sediments

Quick Chilli and Garlic Oil with Sediments

Peperoncini sott'olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Peperoncini sott’olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Furikake (Rice Seasoning) with Chilli and Prune

Furikake (Rice Seasoning) with Chilli and Prune

Dried Bonito and Sesame Rice Topping (Furikake)

Dried Bonito and Sesame Rice Topping (Furikake)

Requiring more time but equally easy (or even much much easier)

Dried Vegetable Stock Mix

Dried Vegetable Stock Mix

Dried Powdered Garlic

Dried Powdered Garlic

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Dried Apples

Dried Apples

For those who are not afraid of preserving

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Time-consuming and requiring more efforts but a rare treat for Thai food lovers…

Thai Chilli Jam (Nam Prik Pao)

Thai Chilli Jam (Nam Prik Pao)

Chilli Lovers’ Preserving Reminder

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

In many countries imported fresh chilli is available all year round, but the most delicious aromatic local ripe chilli – the best for preserves – is sold only for a limited time. In my part of Europe the beginning of August is the best moment to start thinking about preserving this fresh aromatic chilli, find the most interesting farmer market stalls, check the stock of empty jars, lids and, most of all, make a list of the fiery treats that will fill one’s pantry or fridge this year.

I have chosen here my favourite fresh chilli pickles and condiments, successfully tested every year (some short-term preserves are made even dozens of times a year). All of them are easy to prepare and guaranteed as addictive. Some can become long-term preserves, some keep for a limited time in the fridge. I hope my fellow chilli lovers will find at least one of them worth trying and those who cannot stand the heat might substitute chilli with sweet peppers. Write to me if you have any questions or problems.

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Peperoncini sott'olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Peperoncini sott’olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Salt Brine Pickled CHilli

Salt Brine Pickled CHilli

Chilli Jelly

Chilli Jelly

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

Habanero and Oil Paste

Habanero and Oil Paste

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Olives with Lemon Zest and Fennel Seeds

fennel_olivespI haven’t bought seasoned olives for long year because homemade ones are simply better, cheaper and can be ready in about five minutes. Until now I have been seasoning them either European or what I call Korean style, always applying the same method (i.e. combine everything and put into the fridge). I eat them all year round, at any time of the day, at every occasion and even take them as an afternoon snack to the office. Somehow I feel this newly discovered version will be my first choice for hot summer evenings… These olives are particularly refreshing, slightly tangy and, maybe because of the fennel seeds, they simply beg for a glass of ouzo!

I found this mixture of flavours in Smashing Plates by Maria Elia, a wonderful imaginative source of Greek- and Cypriot-inspired recipes. I’ve barely modified the amounts and the method, but I strongly encourage everyone to check Smashing Plates, an original take on traditional Greek culinary traditions.

TIPS: As a big fan of fennel seeds and in general whole seeds as condiments, I loved the additional crunch and texture they add. If you don’t like the idea of whole seeds (or you aren’t sure about your guests’ preferences), you might use of course ground fennel seeds, but I’d advise coarse ground (and do it after roasting whole seeds).

The author advises to warm in the pan all the seasoning ingredients, but I prefer harsher taste of both garlic and chilli, so I have skipped it and only roasted the fennel seeds. Choose the method that suits you best.

Preparation: about 5-10 minutes

Ingredients (serves as a drinks snack for 8 people):

500 g brined olives (unseasoned, of course), drained and rinsed

3 medium garlic cloves, grated, crushed or finely sliced

2 tablespoons fennel seeds

2 fresh chillies, chopped (any heat level and colour will be fine; all depends on your preferences)

lemon zest from one medium lemon, cut into small pieces

5 tablespoons olive oil (or more)

Heat a pan on medium heat and roast fennel seeds for about 30 seconds (don’t burn them).

Combine with all the remaining ingredients and olives.

You can serve these olives straight away if you are in a hurry, but they improve after a night in the fridge (of course covered). If you have kept them in the fridge, take them out about 30 minutes before serving because the oil will solidify during the refrigeration.

They usually keep in the fridge for at least a week (or more).